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Santo vs. Panther (UK 2004)


ohtani's jacket

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El Hijo del Santo vs. Blue Panther, Colchester Arts Centre, 10/06/04

 

This was first of two matches Panther and Santo worked in England, as part of an exhibition of prints by Mexican artist Demián Flores Cortés.

 

'Flores Cortés' work, which is inspired by Mexican pop culture and in particular lucha libre, was described by the Gallery Director as "full of the raw energy, movement, and the staged drama of the wrestling world." Santo and Panther were invited to "animate" that work and did so in front of a packed Arts Centre.

 

Can you imagine Panther and Santo coming to your town? Me neither, but I've gotta tell you -- it wasn't that good.

 

I won't beat around the bush here. I was expecting them to work like maestros, and in a way, I was hoping for something to remember Panther by. He doesn't have a lot of great singles matches and this had to be one.

 

But instead of them working like maestros, we got a "lucha" exhibition with Panther working rudo.

 

Lucha is never really lucha when you take it out of Mexico, for the simple reason that the fans view it as a work. We've all seen Mexican fans who were caught up the drama and allowed themselves to be worked; women who chastised rudos, men who were escorted back to their seats, rudos who were so hated they had to be out of their mind to incite the fans further.

 

What ends up happening in a match like this is that Panther becomes the worker "in the corner of the bad guy" and Santo becomes the worker "in the corner of the good guys." The crowd cheer the technico on, urging him to take over and run through his offence. Usually, but the crowd know it's a work and keep on with their rallying cries. It's difficult to take heat away from the technico, because there's never any sense of the laws that govern lucha libre. Never any sense that the rudo has caused an indignity and that the technico must defend his honour. The rudo winds up being the token villain "in the corner of the bad guy." No one gets worked and no one gets suckered in.

 

I have no interest in a match where the workers chase pops, which is why I would've preferred a straight technico contest. The only way to get around the "rudo problem" on an exhibition match is to go the London/Delaware route and work in a charismatic manner. There's no point trying to fool a crowd who know it's a work, so you might as well be self-referential and have some fun with it.

 

The catch with that is that Panther's not a charismatic worker. The only charisma he's ever had is that he's Blue Panther, which to us means he's a maestro. His approach here was to work stiffer than usual, but the ref didn't admonish him enough, and Santo showed him up by throwing better punches. The end result was that he played second fiddle.

 

That's surprising for pros like Santo and Panther, but a lot of these issues stemmed from the match structure. For some reason, they chose to work the match as a single fall over 30 minutes, which surprised me, since anyone who's ever watched All Star Promotions would be familar with a rounds system and a strong heel/face dynamic for that matter. They also tried working the same shifts in momentum that you'd find in a two-out-of-three falls match, but without the overlapping falls it's difficult to create the same sense of rhythm. The ring was too small to use the ropes like they usually would, so Santo tended to throw in a signature dive when he might usually do a rope exchange, and while it was cool to see him hit topes and planchas in such a confined area, they occurred at the most inopportune times.

 

This did give us the chance to see the "real" Santo, however. I call this Santo the "UWA" Santo, because aside from the summer of '97 he never wrestled this way on TV, which makes me wonder why people care about him making TV appearances at all.

 

His matwork was nothing you haven't seen before, but as usual it was his execution that stood out. Sims describes lucha as "the age-old fight between good and evil", where "good tries to overcome evil by superior work rate and abilities", and since there can be no greater technico than the son of the most famous luchador, this has always been an area where Santo Jr. has strived for perfection. In that sense, the hero's welcome he received in Colchester was fitting; it's just a shame that they forgot about the rudo's role in all this.

 

Watch the "second caida" that wasn't and you'll see what I mean. The second caida is where the rudo begins to pummel the technico. If the technico's smart, he sells it like he's down and out. If the rudo's smart, he plots his own demise through pride or through avarice. Santo and Panther botched a surfboard and Panther laid in a stiff kick that was more of a slap on the thigh. This led to a brawling that was about as effective as the last time I watched CMLL television.

 

If I were to sum up my disappointment with the match, I'd say it lacked the "raw energy, movement, and the staged drama of the wrestling world." It seemed like the print version to me.

 

It has to be said that the crowd loved the match. They really did. It was a rare opportunity to see lucha libre workers in the flesh and there was a chant of "Santo! Santo! Santo!" from a kid who couldn't have been older than four or five. It may have come across better live than it did on tape or perhaps I'm living in an ivory tower of Satanico matches and Negro Navarro matwork.

 

If I ever have a kid, I'm taking him to a show before the magic wears off.

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